What is Headless Commerce?

Everyone (well, we like to think so anyway) is talking about headless commerce, but what is it? 

TL;DR

In its simplest form, headless commerce separates the front-end and back-end of an eCommerce ecosystem. They then communicate via APIs. This architecture means that merchants are free to create better customer experiences. 

What is headless commerce?

Consider this: Back in the day, you had your TV and your DVD player. The TV was the front-end, the DVD player the back-end. So if you wanted to get a larger TV, you just had to pull the cable out, put it in the new set, and you had just upgraded your front-end. 

The same principle goes for your eCommerce operation. You separate the front-end (most commonly a "website") from your back-end systems. This way, you can build one or more new "heads" independently of the back-end. The head and "body" communicate using modern APIs.

And that's where the name headless comes from. You have a headless setup when your front-end "head" is detached from your eCommerce platform.

Why is headless commerce a good thing?

When consumer demands change or new technologies emerge, you need to move quickly to stay relevant. Unfortunately, changing your entire ecosystem every time will take time and cost a lot of money. With a headless commerce setup, where the front-end and back-end are detached, you will only need to upgrade specific parts to implement the necessary changes. You can do this without affecting the rest of the ecosystem. As a result, you can move quicker, with greater freedom.

A headless setup uses APIs to make data available for the front-end and communicate back to the back-end. In addition, APIs are used to integrate other components into your eCommerce ecosystem, such as an ERP system or a loyalty platform.

Great, but here's where it gets interesting. When we talk about headless commerce, the terms "decoupled" and "headless" are used interchangeably. The above TV example describes what can be compared to a decoupled setup. When considering a switch to headless commerce, it's important to know the difference between a decoupled and true headless architecture. 

Decoupled vs. true headless commerce

To continue the DVD/TV analogy, in a decoupled setup, you are still reliant on the DVD player's signal and what the TV can receive - a predetermined format or, in reality, the limitation of a predefined way of displaying information. 

The same goes for your commerce ecosystem. It's easier to get started with a decoupled setup since you usually have pre-built templates and a fixed set of capabilities. Still, if your back-end is built for specific use cases, your front-end must follow the same principles. Older eCommerce platforms calling themselves headless have often decoupled their front-end. But since the platforms are based on older technology, you are still limited to what the back-end allows you to do. As a result, you can only build just that. This will limit your future options.

In short, a decoupled approach is;

  1. an easy way to get started

  2. less complex, with a fixed set of capabilities

  3. limited to what the back-end supports

  4. less flexible and therefore not future-proofed

In a true headless setup, you don't have that limitation. Instead, the data exists in the back-end in a "raw" format; you can access it in any way, for any device or channel you want - which means that you can allow your development teams to build precisely what they want.

True headless commerce is initially more complex and means more work to set up, but it gives you more freedom to future-proof your business. With true headless, you can use any technological framework to create a world-class customer experience. For example, allow your developers to build a custom mobile phone app, a kiosk interface, or a smartwatch shopping experience - all using the same back-end. 

In short, true headless;

  1. demands more technical maturity

  2. gives you total freedom to build what you want

  3. gives you a future-proofed foundation

There is also some confusion about the difference between headless and Composable Commerce but they are not the same thing, even though they are used to describe the same principle.

Benefits of headless commerce

Why would you consider making the switch to true headless commerce? There are several benefits.

  1. Time to market. With headless commerce, you can react quickly to new consumer trends and technological advances. Launch a completely new front-end experience in weeks rather than months, add live shopping or service for user-generated content—all with a minimum of costly back-end development.

  2. Build for anything. Headless commerce allows you to build custom experiences for any channel (marketplaces, mobile devices, etc.), thanks to the use of APIs. 

  3. Framework agnostic. True headless commerce is framework agnostic, allowing your development teams to use whatever programming language they want.

What does headless commerce mean for your customers?

  1. The ability to rapidly make changes ensures that you can offer your customers a better service. And a richer visual experience is possible due to the lack of limitations from a do-it-all platform. If you control your front-end setup completely, the options are endless. Hot tip: keep a close eye on the review sites to see what your customers think. Adjust accordingly.

  2. Quickly adjusting to changing consumer behavior is also essential when expanding to new markets. For example, consumers in a new market will most likely expect other forms of payment or fulfillment options than you offer today. Can you implement that in your current setup?

  3. Increased performance and SEO are also possible with a custom-built front-end, as you are free to use the latest frameworks and techniques. This will make your customers happy, and that, in turn, will make Google happy. 

How do you get started with headless commerce?

Brink Commerce API is a headless composable commerce API. It enables a true headless setup, where developers are free to experiment and iterate. Speak to us today, and we will show you how to get started.